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Could An International Trade Dispute Over Low-Cost Solar Panels From China Threaten US Solar Boom?

The future of U.S. solar industry could depend on an international trade dispute upon which two domestic manufacturers are seeking trade sanctions against the plummeting prices of solar panels due to low-cost imports from China.

But, could this trade hearing jeopardize the American solar industry and cost jobs if the International Trade Commission (ITC) decides against outside manufacturers? low cost solar panels

Tariffs on imports would strike a serious blow to U.S. solar industry

In a recent federal hearing, two U.S. solar manufacturers – Suniva and SolarWorld – have petitioned against outside imports alleging unfair competition after both these companies declared bankruptcy. The case, which was brought before the ITC this past month, could produce shockwaves across all divisions of the solar market, putting 88,000 jobs at stake (more than 260,000 people work in the solar industry today), and could potentially cancel two-thirds of impending solar installations over the next 5 years.

The petition asks the federal government to impose steep tariffs on solar equipment made outside the U.S. The companies are seeking a 4-year tariff of $0.40/watt for imported solar cells and a floor price of $0.78/watt on modules (packaged PV cells circuits that are essentially the building blocks of solar panel systems).

These tariffs, if passed under the sections of U.S. trade laws, could double the cost of PV systems and significantly reduce the demand for solar energy.

The Suniva-SolarWorld case is seeing defiant opposition by the rest of the solar industry — a new coalition of conservative policy groups is joining forces with the Solar Energy Industries of America (SEIA), which represents a broad spectrum of the solar industry, to fight the raising of tariffs. The case has come under scrutiny by the federal commission as to why these companies fell through amid a booming solar climate in the country.

Solar panel prices reach historic lows, dropping over 60% in the last 10 years

The solar industry thrives on low-cost imported supplies to meet the growing demand of installations across the U.S. In fact, an estimated 125 solar panels were added every minute in 2016 – almost double from the previous year, with the average price falling below $3/watt for homeowners, as reported by SEIA. The solar boom is further supported by attractive tax credits and incentives that make solar systems even more affordable, spurring an influx of people to seek out the economical benefits of solar now more than ever before.

In Maryland, where solar energy powers 76,000 homes and continues to flourish, we at SolarGaines remain positive that from having installed leading solar technology on 800 homes and businesses in 4 states and Washington, D.C., we will continue to raise the bar and strive to help residential and commercial customers realize all the benefits and financial returns of renewable energy (listen to our feature story on WYPR News Station here!).

We’ll be keeping a close watch on the commission’s decision, which is expected to be issued in September.